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The AI Apocalypse Started Decades Ago

AI is dangerous. It is dangerous because it is powerful and inhuman.

No matter how anodyne the goals are, or how careful the safeguards are, an entity that is both powerful and inhuman is dangerous. The more powerful and inhuman it is, the more dangerous it will be.

This is a well-worn lesson from science fiction, horror, and philosophical thought experiments about hypothetical super-intelligent artificial intelligences, such as Nick Bostom’s paperclip maximizer.1

Hypothetical artificial intelligences are sometime inhuman and are often very very powerful.

Imagine an office-supply company builds an intelligent machine to make paperclips. Paperclips are good and useful. And the more paperclips the machine makes, the more money the company makes. So the company programs their machine to make as many paperclips as possible.

But the machine doesn’t think the way humans think. It makes paperclips out of all the raw material in the factory. It makes paperclips out of the building it is in and the cars in the parking lot. Soon, the entire planet is nothing but paperclips. The humans are gone, driven to extinction by a paperclip manufacturing machine.

It’s a terrifying scenario if you believe in the possibility of super-intelligent machines and understand the harms they could cause.

It is horrifying to believe that there could be this powerful and inhuman machine causing global destruction.

But entities like that already exist.

Most software is almost entirely inhuman and some software is very very powerful.2

Social media companies build software to induce engagement. Engagement is good and useful. And the more engagement the software induces, the more money the company makes. So social media companies program their software to induce as much engagement as possible.

But social media software doesn’t think the way humans think. It creates engagement from depression3, from anxiety4, from loneliness5, and from far-right extremism.6

It’s a terrifying scenario if you know the reality of social media and understand the harm it causes.

It is horrifying to know that there is this powerful and inhuman software causing global destruction.

But entities like that have existed for centuries.

Most corporations are almost entirely inhuman and some corporations are very very powerful.

Shareholders build corporations to create profit. Profit is good and useful. And the more profit the corporations create the more money the shareholders make. So shareholders direct their corporations to create as much profit as possible.7

But corporations don’t think the way that humans do. They create profit from addiction,8 from colonization,9 from slavery,10 from genocide,11 and from climate change.12

It’s a terrifying scenario if you know the reality of corporations and understand the harm they cause.

It is horrifying to know that there are these powerful and inhuman entities causing global destruction.

  1. Explored in Ethical Issues in Advanced Artificial Intelligence

  2. And all software is artificial intelligence. 

  3. “[Social media] use was significantly associated with increased depression.” Association Between Social Media Use and Depression Among U.S. Young Adults, Depression and Anxiety, Volume 33, Issue 4, pages 323-331, January 19, 2016 

  4. “Use of multiple [social media] platforms is independently associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety.” Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among U.S. young adults Computers in Human Behavior. 69. 1-9 April 2017 

  5. “The limited use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group.” No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 2018 37:10, 751-768 

  6. “[C]ontent from sources rated as far-right by independent news rating services consistently received the highest engagement per follower of any partisan group.” Far-right news sources on Facebook more engaging Cybersecurity for Democracy, March 3, 2021 

  7. “[T]here is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.” A Friedman Doctrine: The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits Milton Friedman, The New York Times Magazine, September 13, 1970 

  8. “In short, defendants have marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted,” US District Court ruling in United States v. Philip Morris, quoted in Judge rules against Big Tobacco 

  9. “[The English East India Company] was essentially the de facto emperor of large portions of India, which was one of the most productive economies in the world at that point.” – Emily Erikson, How the East India Company Became the World’s Most Powerful Monopoly 

  10. “From 1680 to 1686, the [Royal African Company] transported an average of 5,000 slaves per year, most of which were shipped to colonies in the Caribbean and Virginia.” What Was the Royal African Company? 

  11. “IBM and the Nazis jointly designed, and IBM exclusively produced, technologic solutions that enabled Hitler to accelerate and automate key aspects of his persecution of the Jews from the initial identification and social expulsion, to the confiscation and ghettoization, to the deportation and ultimate extermination.” The business of making the trains to Auschwitz run on time, San Francisco Chronicle, May 19, 2002 

  12. “[W]hile their tactics have evolved from outright, blatant climate denial to more subtle forms of lobbying and propaganda, their end goal remains the same. And that’s to stop action on climate change.” – Geoffrey Supran, Tracing Big Oil’s PR war to delay action on climate change, The Harvard Gazette, Sept 28, 2021